The latest WSW video chat features indie author Richard Pastore. Go and have a look; as you’ll see from the image, a good time was had by all as we discussed point of view, the similarities between writing and cooking, and other topics.
Before we become writers, we are readers. Without readers, there would be little point in writing. As a reader over many decades, I’ve noticed I don’t always read the same way. Recent reading experiences made me think of different reading styles, and I came up with these nine.
Excited Reading The reader can’t wait to see what happens next and how the story ends. This is the “can’t put it down” type of reading experience. The book is devoured in one or two sessions, which may extend far into the night. The reader may be skimming the paragraphs and missing small details, but fast-paced books are intended to be read quickly.
Delighted Reading The reader is fully engaged with the book, its characters, plot, and language. Every word is relished and savoured. The reader is not in a hurry to get to the end of the book, but always eager to pick it up again after stopping. The reader is sorry when the book ends and will likely read it again at some point.
Puzzled Reading Re-reading the beginning or other parts of a book for clues as to what the story is about, or even having to abandon and re-start the book several times. The reader may wonder why the book has so many rave reviews.
Bored Reading Skipping and skimming paragraphs while looking for something interesting. May precede a decision to DNF.
Dutiful Reading Reading for a class assignment, book club, beta-read, or obligatory review. DNF is not an option.
Analytical Reading Reading attentively while looking for symbols, hidden meanings, and connections to the author’s life, with the intention of writing a critique or academic paper.
Judgmental Reading Looking for reasons to stop reading and decide the story does not meet the reader’s criteria.
Malicious Reading Reading to find errors and problems for the purpose of writing a negative review.
Comfort Reading Re-reading an old favourite one more time.
Writers, of course, want to create books that will elicit Excited or Delighted reading, rather than the Bored or Puzzled varieties. If one’s book is being read Analytically, success (possibly posthumous) is implied. Most writers end up doing some form of Dutiful reading, but hopefully do not descend to the Malicious type. Judgmental reading is done by acquisitions editors and agents. Finally, everyone has books that can be relied upon to produce Comfort and the delight of the familiar.
Fellow writers (and readers), have you experienced any of these types of reading? Can you think of others?
Back in June we went for a drive around our region, and returned via a ferry that crosses a local water body. The crossing takes less than half an hour, but we had to wait quite a bit longer than that for the next scheduled sailing. During that wait I took a couple of photos of roadside weeds, because I thought they were beautiful.
Don’t these scenes look gardenesque? I’ve thought for a long time that an aesthetically pleasing garden may be made of any plants, even weeds. The blackberry is an alien invasive of the worst kind here (never mind that it produces delicious berries). Dock is also a weed, and I suspect those lovely grasses are as well. Buttercups are pretty, but many gardeners labour mightily to weed them from their lawns.
Some of the most dependable plants in my garden are quasi-weeds. I’ve blogged about them many times. Gardeners who welcome weedy plants must learn how to manage them. Diligent deadheading is the key for the ones that seed abundantly. Weedy plants that spread underground by roots or runners are really best avoided.
I actually have a small area that comes close to being a garden of weeds. It’s part of the municipal boulevard. The lawn grass there was pretty pathetic, and deteriorated to the point it was an eyesore. So I introduced a few plants I had admired while biking to work on a trail parallel to a highway–chicory, Queen Anne’s lace, and California poppies. I let the existing grass grow and trimmed it manually when it started to look tired. A couple of plants found elsewhere in the garden ended up there too–a white campion, a bronze fennel, a couple of mulleins, and a small plant of Erysimum “Bowles Mauve.” Sometimes I think the whole project was a mistake, but in the right light, it can look fairly good.
I think weed gardens work only if all the plants in them are weeds, equally tough and equally rustic looking. Introducing a few tough plants into regular borders can be effective, but the gardener has to keep a close eye on them. And some weeds have no place in civilized gardens–those blackberries, for example, and any form of bindweed. Horsetails too are wonderfully architectural and different, but I understand they spread relentlessly and are nearly impossible to dig up.
All this leads to a conclusion: plants are plants. Some are beautiful. Some are weedy. The gardener observes and selects, makes mistakes and learns (usually in a bent-over position, clutching a spade).
I have heard of gardeners who manage to harvest their first ripe tomato by the Fourth of July. All I can say is these folks must have optimal conditions and superb techniques to achieve this feat. Either that or they’re lying.
I’m happy if any of my plants have visible tomatoes by the beginning of July.
My plants spend most of June just growing to the maximum size their pots allow. I encourage this by making sure they never dry out. I also remove any unwanted side-shoots that appear in the leaf axils. This gets tricky once the plants are a foot or two in height, because the stems inevitably bend a bit. A couple of mine managed to do some sneaky branching.
At some point the plants start blooming.
No one grows tomatoes for their flowers, but viewed closely, they are bright and cheery. Their purpose is to turn into tomatoes, however, so I hope they are visited by pollinators. The wait is agonizingly slow, especially if the weather is cool (not a problem this summer!) I’ve even been known to fluff around with a little paintbrush to help things along.
This plant’s flowers have obviously been visited by bees or other insects. Those golf-ball sized tomatoes will expand over the next couple of months and eventually turn into luscious red globes (and salsa!)
The only jobs for the gardener now are to keep watering, remove side shoots, and maybe apply some sort of fertilizer. Not a high nitrogen type, however; no need to encourage more leaf growth. I’ve heard that when it rains, it’s a good idea to cover the plants with a tarp or something of the sort to prevent blight. We haven’t had a drop of rain in nearly a month, and none in sight, so I guess I don’t have to worry about blight, either early or late.
Years ago, after spending a couple of hours digging out the running roots of a badly-placed plant of peach-leaved bellflower (Campanula persicifolia), I wrote this blog post, in which I called it a “garden enemy,” and got its name wrong too. It’s “peach-leaved,” not “peach-leaf.” I was quite the opinionated little snark about it too, as shown in my response to one of the comments.
Since then, I’ve made my peace with this campanula, and have come to recognize its value, especially in this garden where dry summers, light soil, and lots of shade make growing fussier plants a challenge. For someone who not only tolerates but encourages quite a few semi-weeds, I really had no business lambasting Campanula persicifolia.
Luckily, plants don’t bear grudges for poor reviews, and peach-leaved bellflower is still with me. It pops up reliably in several spots around the garden, and occasionally surprises me by appearing in new places. And in new colours–different shades of lavender-blue and occasionally white.
Years in the making, months in the editing, months in the formatting, and a whole bunch of dead brain cells … The Dime is now live on Amazon in e-book form or paperback. Go buy yourself a copy. Buy some for your friends. They make great stocking stuffers. Door stops even. Who knows, you might actually like the book. Here’s what the first reviewer has to say:
Although The Dime centers around the lives of three young people (two teenagers and a young adult), it transcends a typical YA novel in that the characters are dealing with real-life issues (parental death, disability, abuse) that go well beyond typical teenage angst. This makes it relatable to all, especially since Paxson’s evocative writing stirs feelings and emotions in the reader that rise above the story itself.
The three main characters are fully dimensional and the storytelling rich. Even The Dime’s old owner, Mr…
The western part of North America is experiencing record-breaking temperatures, approaching 40C (100+F) on the south coast of Vancouver Island. This is an unprecedented weather situation caused by a blocked ridge of high pressure that is predicted to hang around until Tuesday.
We have become cellar-dwellers, including Nelly the dog. Newfoundlands don’t like it hot.
You can imagine what I’m doing when not lurking in the basement to cool off.
If I’m less visible on the usual blogs for a few days, it’s because I’ve wilted.
In a recent garden photos post, I complained that I couldn’t think of anything to say about writing and asked for suggestions in the comments. Priscilla Bettis wondered how I deal with writing from a man’s or a kid’s point of view, and Elizabeth Merry offered some thoughts on her approach to this.
And I thought–why haven’t I posted about this before? So now I’m doing it.
All my novels have first person narrators, and several of those narrators are men. One of them is gay, and part of one book deals with that character’s childhood. Since no one (fellow writer or reviewer) has noted any serious problems with my portrayals of those male characters, I have to conclude that I did an at least adequate job in writing them.
To be honest, it’s also a challenge to write from the point of view of a female character more sophisticated than I, or who has had a more adventurous or difficult life.
Dwelling on these challenges can have a paralyzing effect. In fact, thinking too much about any type of writing challenge can be discouraging. Instead, consider the following:
Writing exclusively from one’s own type (middle-aged-verging-on-old woman in my case) is way too limiting.
People have more in common than not. Everyone was a kid once. Everyone has occasion to talk with and observe all kinds of people.
Writers are good at creating from their imaginations. We can do this.
Here are some practices and techniques that I have found helpful in writing male characters, children, and other characters unlike me–present-day me, that is.
Drawing upon conscious and unconscious observations made over a lifetime.
Drawing upon the results of a lifetime of reading, as well as listening to and watching different kinds of people in media and movies.
Deliberately seeking out writings by or about people like the character I am creating. This is a form of research–filling my brain with concepts, outlooks, and turns of phrase used by people different from me. Having primed the pump, when I go to write those characters, I set myself aside and let the other persona gush forth.
Free-writing from the character’s point of view, but outside of the main work-in-progress, is a low risk way to experiment.
Recognizing when I’m not capable of creating an intended character, due to lack of information or empathy. I can remedy that by further research, or replace the character with one I feel capable of writing.
Asking critique partners and beta readers to look out for problems with characters different from me.
In the end, though, fiction is artifice and our characters are artificial people. Close to real may have to be good enough, if we have approached character creation responsibly and respectfully.
So, fellow writers, how do you approach writing characters who are different from you?